Antithesis, Antithesis, Antithesis.
I had once spoken with a man who argued that, by analogy, just as the Christian has no need to explain why he disavows a belief in Zeus, so the agnostic has no need to explain why he disavows a belief in Christ as Lord. The argument, at first sight, was quite keen: Zeus, after all, seems totally irrelevant to the Christian. We never really think of him. We simply go about our business presuming upon his non-existence, and life can go on our merry way just as is. So it is with the agnostic who refuses to commit himself to the existence of Christ and the pressure that his existence might exert upon his moral, practical, and life choices. Christ is simply irrelevant.
Given the assumption of this sort of framework, his argument goes a step further. The only difference, then, between a Christian and the non-Christian, for him, was merely peripheral or supplemental. We are both, at bottom, the same. We all “love” one another, and we are all to strive after some sort of value, happiness, and comfort. What he fails to understand, of course, is why then do have to attend church on a sunday, or why Christians are opposed to the notion of same-sex romance or “pro-choice” movements. So why not, then, just drop the peripheral stuff, and focus on what we all have in common?
Now it should be readily seen that his agnosticism was not so agnostic after all. His explicit views exposes a whole host of assumptions operative within his worldview that determines the way that he lives his life. He believes that truth, values, and the like could exist quite apart from God. He believes that if God exists then even God could only be God if he abides by these truths and values that were discovered and delineated by human reason (or, at least, his reason). He places high confidence in his cognitive preferences – what seems to him to be lovely, good, and pure, must actually be good, lovely, and pure. He thinks that his thoughts really do correspond to reality, and that all human beings would share the same sorts of convictions if they all just think hard enough. Likewise, these values are simply what they are. Who knows how we are to explain them: we came from nothing, and we will end up in nothing – but somehow in between, meaning and value obtains. In this way, the agnostic reasons quite conclusively (functionally renouncing his professed agnosticism).
The agnostic position, it turns out, is no less antitheistic than the atheistic position. Theologically conscious thinkers would quickly see how this is the case – the agreement between Christians and non-Christians, from the Christian perspective, is only formal in nature and are to be attributed to the fact that both Christians and non-Christians were made in the image of God, and that God, by his common grace, restrains the hearts and minds of non-believers (notice, the agreement between them is accounted for by the Christian not by an appeal to some rational principle but to an aspect of the Christian worldview, which alone could account for the intuitional differences and similarities between human beings). Truth, value, meaning, are discoverable not because they simply exist in and of themselves as a result of chance (which is a contradiction, by the way), but because they are a reflection of God’s eternal and absolute character – the very fact that non-Christians can predicate meaningfully on anything assumes the falsity of their basic foundations and the veracity of the Christian position. If the Christian position is not true, there would be no value and meaning, but since there is value and meaning, the Christian position is presupposed. Insofar as non-believers think, predicate meaningfully, and seek value, they are actually depending upon the God that they profess to deny. They are, as Van Til says, like the little girl who needed to be carried by their dad in order to be able to slap him in the first place. The existence of Christ is not peripheral – it cannot be – it changes the way we view numbers as much as it changes the way we view sexual relationships. It changes the way we view our laws of thinking, reasoning, as much as it does our moral choices. Without God, all we do when we seem to pronounce on morality, meaning, and anything at all would be simply a description of our preferences, which has no actual bearing on reality. Is happiness determined by a virtuous life (which might include suffering still) or a life in absence of suffering?(following Aristotle, or John Stuart Mill?) Whose to say who’s right? All talk would be the making of sounds with no real content and with no real standards – wind thrown to the air and nothing more.
So long as Christians focus exclusively on issues such as career-choices, “pro-life/pro-choice” or gender “equality,” we would be missing the point. These are second-order issues that could only be discussed fruitfully if the foundational problems are first highlighted and addressed. A persuasive attempt at a witness to the world, therefore, cannot be fixated on these things – it must get to the heart of the matter.
Part of what it means to be a salt of light in the world is to glorify God with both our deed and speech. Our deed, and speech, which reflects God’s will, however, is not exclusive to the “religious stuff”, lest “agnostics” and the like are reinforced in their false belief that Christian beliefs are simply peripheral to living a proper life. And so long as Christians act as if their whole existence is to debate these second order issues non-Christians will never be persuaded to see that Christianity is at basic different than their position. This means that our lives must communicate the truth that Christ is Lord over all things as consistently as it could – Christ’s Lordship is not merely supplemental – it does not merely determine my political or specific moral issues – it determines and influences my every decision.
Which, practically speaking, is quite obvious. Stated negatively, if we do not attempt to include and make explicit the Lordship and redemptive purposes of Jesus Christ in our rationale for every decision in life, we will inevitably communicate that His existence is only relevant to a few things in life. Why do we do what we do? Why did we choose to live here and not there? Why did I take this position? If God is not a part of the reasoning behind these choices, then we have sold our land to the other side. And so long as we communicate this faulty message, we compromise our loyalty to Him and our effectivity in communicating the truth in the world. In our attempts to be “relevant” to the world, we might be tempted to speak, act, and walk like the world – but if in doing so we communicate that so much of Christianity is just like the world (except these peripheral moral issues) then the world will not see the need to abandon their foundation and to submit every thought to the Lordship of Christ – why would they? They are fine, we seem to communicate, as far as they go – why abandon a few peripheral beliefs when foundationally they are quite right?
Christianity does not offer supplemental beliefs to add as a second floor to an already-established yet incomplete first floor. It demands an entire worldview demolition, and in its place an entirely new reconstruction.